1st XV vs Biggar: Match Report

1st XV vs Biggar: Match Report

In a valiant fight against recidivism, nowadays we put murderers in prison. In 1660, Major-General Thomas Harrison, one of the regicides of Charles I, was hanged with a ‘short drop’. That means he was garrotted, but alive. His genitals were cut off, wiped back and forth across his face and thrown into a bucket. His disembowelment followed, and his entrails were burnt in front of him. Remarkably, at this point, Harrison punched the executioner – who promptly killed him.

A similar treatment for Willie Aitken, as befell the luckless Harrison, would no doubt be deemed fair by the denizens of East Lanarkshire. Willie’s crime appears to be choosing to play his rugby for Stewart’s Melville rather than Biggar or Peebles.

Biggar, though, in general terms, have to be congratulated for the contribution they make year after year to youth rugby, women’s rugby and the promotion of rugby in Lanarkshire, and we have had some terrific tussles with them over the years.

Willie, really, was always going to be targeted by Biggar, and, after his first yellow for an altercation with Reive, he was, as they say in football punditry ‘walking a tightrope’. Sure enough, when he was involved in what was deemed to be a ‘tip tackle’ the howls from the crowd perhaps encouraged the Assistant Referee to intervene. Once he intervenes, there is only going to be one outcome, and, sure enough, yellow then red was flashed in front of the unfortunate Aitken.

The upshot of all this was that Stewart’s Melville played more than half the match with fourteen men. To win from this position, particularly after the disappointment of the previous week, was a tremendous display of determination. Rugby, particularly in our league (where all teams are evenly matched), often comes down to who wants it more.

The absence of Aitken meant that, from dominating the scrum when Aitken was on the pitch, we achieved, at best, parity when he was off, as, gamely though George Harris competed on his debut, we were a man down in the scrum.

Before the game, Biggar needed to make up 9 points to achieve safety, and, therefore, the Stewart’s Melville fixture offered a potential lifeline – with games against fellow strugglers still to come at Hartree Mill.

There were several changes to what has been considered our optimum XV, but all of the incomers were experienced at this level and acquitted themselves well during the match. The replacements bench, hewn from the successful 2nd XV (including the aforementioned George), saw more action than had been initially envisaged and none of the subs was found wanting.

The first half was a one-sided affair, but Biggar seemed to have done their homework on our backs, and Morrell, Hanning and McCashin were all well policed. The tribute to these players is the respect that opposition coaches afford them, and the conundrum is how to release them in different and unexpected situations.

It was after a rare Biggar attack had broken down that Rennie gathered and linked with Morrell; Matt hit traffic but found Angus with the return pass and nothing in front of him bar a distant Tinto Hill. Hanning – on kicking duty – added the extras.

An interception try by Smart took the gloss off our efforts, however, and meant the half-time whistle sounded with Biggar only two points in arrears.

The second half started brightly enough for Stewart’s Melville, with Strachan cleverly pulling the strings, and, when Morrell squeezed in at the corner, it looked as if we would kick on. The sending off undeniably gave Biggar a lift, though, and gaps started to appear as tackles were slipped.

Bertram and King did not need a second invitation, and, with twenty minutes to go, Biggar had established a five point advantage. Gregor Porteous (undeniably a talent), Rappestad (undeniably big) and Chris Beattie were all introduced as we set about overturning the deficit.

With time running out, from lineout ball opposite the clubhouse, it looked as though we had sliced through in the centre through Hanning – only to be pulled back for a forward pass. Surprisingly, we were allowed to repeat the move for Gregor to skip through, and Mike Hanning’s conversion gave us a two point advantage with 40 minutes gone in the second half. The referee played seven minutes of injury time, however, during which time Hunter missed a good penalty chance to add a final twist to the outcome.

Over the years Stewart’s Melville’s record at Hartree Mill has not been one to be particularly proud of, but there is a spirit in adversity about the present incumbents of our 1st XV which has earned the respect of our opponents. We have a much needed break next week then Peebles away – win that and hopefully Jordanhill or Dundee will bring down GHA.

Gavin Calder

Samuel Pepys wrote an eyewitness account of the execution at Charing Cross, in which Major-General Harrison was dryly reported to be “looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition”. This account is also quoted on a plaque on the wall of the Hung, Drawn and Quartered public house near Pepys Street, where the diarist lived and worked in the Navy Office. In his final moments, as he was being led up the scaffold, the hangman asked for his forgiveness. Upon hearing his request, Thomas Harrison replied, “I do forgive thee with all my heart … Alas poor man, thou doith it ignorantly, the Lord grant that this sin may be not laid to thy charge.” Thomas Harrison then gave all of the money that remained in his pockets to his executioner and was thereafter executed.

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